(OAKLAND) -- The Oakland Athletics had just finished a tough road trip through smoldering Texas heat, and even with a day off and some new blood injected into the roster, they still came home and lost to Kansas City Royals last night, 1-0.
It's been a weird week for the A's, who were only saved from being swept by the lowly Houston Astros this week by a miracle comeback on Tuesday evening. And with the Los Angeles Angels just one game back now in the American League West division, it's time for Oakland to get it going.
They've got the rotation to do it now, for sure, and the A's are still the high-scoring team in baseball this season.
Enter Jon Lester, Oakland new staff ace—joining the team just four weeks after it acquired Jeff Samardzija. Throw in Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir, and suddenly the A's have a rotation to rival the 1969-71 Baltimore Orioles or the 1990s Atlanta Braves.
But Oakland now has to win the World Series, and it's rare that the "favorite" ends up doing that. The pressure will be on, and the A's have to do it without outfield All-Star Yoenis Cespedes, traded to the Boston Red Sox for Lester.
Come October, the team will be fine even if they hit a few bumps in the road on the way: you have to like a rotation of Lester, Samardzija, Kazmir and Gray in any multi-game series, so the real pressure will be on the offense to produce without Cespedes.
And that really shouldn't be a problem: for all the hype surrounding him, Yoenis was an average hitter most of the time. He struck out in 20% of his at-bats, and his OPS this year was just .767—buried by a .303 on-base percentage. Cespedes wasn't stealing bases, any more, either
After his dazzling debut in 2012—.292 batting average, 23 home runs, 82 RBI and 16 stolen bases for an .861 OPS—he truly had been in a funk.
Yes, his highlight-reel throws are nice, and yes, winning the All-Star Home Run Derby twice in a row was cool. But on a day-to-day basis, his production was lacking in the lineup. A new LF platoon of Jonny Gomes and Sam Fuld—both reacquired on Thursday—Oakland gets two familiar faces back, and overall, the team chemistry shouldn't be affected that drastically.
The A's are a solid group, and they just got better on paper.
Now they have to earn respect by winning it all. Lester can help. He's a guy who has a 2.11 ERA in 13 postseason appearances, including a 2-0 record with a 0.59 ERA in last season's World Series. Lester can anchor the relatively inexperienced rotation for the title push.
And make no mistake, Oakland wants this, badly. The team has been to the playoffs nine times since it last won the World Series in 1989, and the A's have won just two playoff series in those nine trips. General Manager Billy Beane has the respect and valuation from those in the know, but to too many ignorant people, he's still the guy who hasn't won a championship.
GMs get teams to the postseason over the 162-game grind of the regular season, but a bad hop can decide a team's playoff fate in a short series. For a small-market franchise, the A's have made seven trips to the postseason in the last 14 years, and that's stunning in this era where teams routinely spend like crazy to win.
This may be Oakland's best chance in recent memory to win it all, so when Lester takes the mound today at the O.co Coliseum for the first time—against the Royals, he is 7-3 lifetime with a 1.43 ERA—the A's will be focused on something larger than themselves.
Gomes and Lester were just there last year with the Red Sox: they know the way to the Promised Land. Only time will tell if the A's are able to make the journey successfully.